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Fire send Sporting KC Spiraling to Third Straight Loss

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You know, at some point, Sporting Kansas City is probably going to have to actually beat the Chicago Fire for them to make any claims about these match-ups turning into a bitter rivalry.

The Fire came from behind to knock off the MLS Eastern Conference leaders 2-1 in front of a crowd of 14,159 at Toyota Park. The win gives the Fire 15 points on the season and puts them in fourth place in the conference.

Sporting scored first in the 30th minute when striker Kei Kamara found midfielder Roger Espinoza down the right flank and Espinoza put the ball into the box. His low cross found winger Bobby Convey, who was able to lose Fire right back Dan Gargan and tap the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson to give Sporting a 1-0 advantage. The goal was Convey's first since joining the club in the offseason and sent the (allegedly) 500 traveling KC Cauldron supporters into delirium.

Gargan was only substituted into the match moments earlier when starting defender Arne Friedrich strained his hamstring while challenging for a loose ball. Friedrich had to be substituted with Gargan coming on. Starting right back Jalil Anibaba moved over to center back to accommodate the substitution. Moments later, the Fire were trailing.

Just before halftime, Sporting nearly doubled their advantage. Fire defender Austin Berry slipped while covering Sporting midfielder Graham Zusi. This allowed Zusi to find space down the right flank. His cross found midfielder Roger Espinoza, whose 43rd minute shot was deflected on to the crossbar and out of play by Johnson, in what will surely be an MLS Save of the Week nominee.

The second half though, belonged to the Men in Red.

In the 60th minute, defender Gonzalo Segares launched a long chip for Dominic Oduro. Oduro was free on goal from the left side, but he was tackled in the box by Aurelien Collin, resulting in Referee Jose Carlos Rivero pointing to the spot for a penalty kick. Midfielder Sebastian Grazzini stepped up and fired a shot into the top right corner of the net past Sporting ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen to give the Fire the equalizer.

If giving up the equalizer wasn't bad enough, Sporting really lost their composure only moments later.

While challenging for a ball near midfield, Espinoza launched a wild elbow to the jaw of Grazzini. Rivero wasted no time in going to his back pocket to show Espinoza a red card. The ejection was the third consecutive time Sporting have picked up a red card against the Fire.

And with less than ten minutes to go, the Fire completed the comeback. Gargan crossed a ball into the right from the right side that was handled by Kamara. But in a very bizarre moment, Kamara was caught taking too long to clear the ball from danger. Winger Patrick Nyarko was able to close in on Kamara and take possession before putting a low cross into the box. Oduro was able to gain enough separation from defender Matt Besler to put the ball in from about a yard out.

Oduro's goal was his fourth of the season and his 16th since being traded to the Fire from the Houston Dynamo in March 2011.

"As soon as we went a man up we knew we had to go for it," said Oduro after the match. "There was no way we were going to settle for a tie."

Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas was pleased with how his team reacted after being down a goal at halftime.

"The second half was an opportunity for our team to regroup and talk about how we wanted to approach the next half," said Klopas during his postgame press conference. "We pushed again for forty-five minutes and scored two goals against a very good defensive team."

For the Fire, it was a matter of keeping their Eastern Conference dominance intact. The Men in Red have not lost to a conference rival since May 21, 2011 and haven't lost at home against the East since October 12, 2010.

For Sporting Kansas City on the other hand, it was a match they let slip away.

Head Coach Peter Vermes was not shy when expressing his feelings about Referee Jose Carlos Rivero.

"Two years now here, in a row, we come here and we have two red cards which aren't red cards, which completely changes the outcome of the game," said Vermes after the game. "So now we don't only lose the player for this game, but we lose him for the next game."

Vermes continued to express his displeasure over the officiating:

"The referee is there to ref the game, not to be part of the show. And today, that's what he made himself. He made himself part of the show. And that's disappointing, because players, they work hard, they are the ones who are the entertainers on the field, not him, and unfortunately that's what the game was like today. He changed the game."

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen also believed his team did enough to walk away with a positive result from the match.

"I think we did all the right things today, we did a great job, worked hard, played well," said Nielsen. "(The) referee changed the game."

The loss is Sporting's third straight after starting off the season winning their first seven matches. Regardless of Sporting's recent slump, Klopas believes beating the first place club in the conference will help the Fire's determination going forward.

"Obviously, it is a very good feeling that we beat a team like this," said Klopas. "It gives a lot of confidence to the players, knowing that the work that you put in during the training and the effort that you put in during games gives results."

The Fire are next in action a week from Sunday when they take on the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field at 6pm. Meanwhile, Sporting travels to Colorado to take on the Rapids next Saturday.